Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Stretching leather

I recently finished a group of 3 hoods - 2 in lamb and one in a cow hide in a sort of pearlescent gray color. The lamb leather is so soft and pliable, it has no problem stretching to conform to a head shape. But the cow leather, on the other hand is stiffer - and can use some help to take a more spherical shape. For this I use my carved wood hood-last and shoe-stretch spray.
In the distant past I have experimented with wetting leather with water in order to stretch it, but the problem is it can leave the leather stiff when it dries. Vegetable-tanned leather can be molded with water, but that won't work with garment, upholstery or aniline-dyed leather.
I found that this commercial leather shoe-stretch spray is a good way to get the leather to stretch more than it would if it was dry, but without affecting the surface finish, or leaving the leather stiff.
I usually apply this a couple of times, pulling the laces tighter each time. I'm always surprised by how much it will stretch the leather, and have been happy with the results.


  1. Dear Christopher,
    Well, I've joined Blogspot simply to be able to post a comment on your blog, having spent a very interesting couple of hours reading about your projects. It's one of the most interesting pages I've come across. And yes, I too have been through the 'How it works' must watch phase aswell!

    As you were saying on your 1st page, and though I've often looked for one, I haven't come across anybody doing the same thing to a similar degree. So thankyou for sharing your talent and also taking time to explain the steps with some great photos. I've made various bits & pieces in the past, mainly in latex but time permitting hope to do more in leather soon. Your pages have added more inspiration :-).

    Re the leather stretching - I've never tried the commercial (solvent based?) liquids, but in the past I've had good success stretching garment leathers with water. Yes it does leave it a little stiff but this goes away with time and movement of the leather. How well that would work with some of the thicker leathers I'm not sure. I'll try a commercial product next time after hearing you say about it.

    Christopher, would you consider doing a blog on your Adler sewing machine? I'm in the process of trying to figure out which machine to buy next, to upgrade a trusty heavy duty standard machine to some thing that will do leather properly. Like many I'm struggling to figure out what's important to look out for. Walking foot seems an essential feature, my standard one gets stuck on all kinds of things. Would you consider going through what you've found to be 'must have' features for the work you've been doing?

    Kind regards

  2. Dear Pete,
    Thanks for writing, and sorry for having to setup an account just to comment. I appreciate the feedback, and am just glad to know someone somewhere is getting something out of the blog. It's very cool! I am closing in on 500,000 page views, so it's really beyond what I imagined in terms of interest.

    I think you're right, that the commercial stretch-spray is solvent-based. It seems to be maybe alcohol because it evaporates rather quickly, and has that kind of smell. As you mention, every leather is different, so it's good to test on a scrap if you can. I'm looking to do some veg-tanned hoods, that will almost be case-like, and for that water soaking is the way to go.

    Finally, I don't have an Adler, although I was looking at one seriously for the cylinder-bed set up. I ended up going with an Artisan machine, and I will do a more detailed blog post on that soon. I would say a walking-foot is essential for leather work, as well as the ability to stitch through multiple thicknesses of whatever weight leather you want to sew. Juki, Consew, Adler and Artisan all make machines that are widely used.

  3. Great blog!

    Could you tell me where it's possible to get the wooden hood-shapes(English is not my main language) from? Do you carve them yourself or is it possible to buy them from somewhere online?

    1. Thanks Ulven,

      I don't know of any place that sells the wood head shapes, and ended up carving them myself, mainly because I was after very specific sizing. But let me know if you ever come across anyone whod does sell something similar.

      The previous posts about carving the head forms are here: